Sunday, April 26, 2009

Which Is Longer?

Yesterday, while driving from the Twin Cities to Saint Louis, I put a burning question to the test. Namely: Which is longer, the state of Iowa or Wagner's Götterdämmerung? I studied this vital issue by listening to the latter while driving across the former. The opera, which concludes Wagner's "Ring of the Niebelung" cycle of four interminable operas, came on the air as the last Metropolitan Opera broadcast of the season.

It started while I was still well within the borders of Minnesota. It played on one Iowa Public Radio station or another as I drove by Mason City, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Keokuk. When I finally lost contact with the Met broadcast, 10 miles from the Missouri state line, there was still a good bit of Act 3 to go. Siegfried had just perished, and I know (thanks to Margaret Juntwait) that at least three principal characters had yet to die tragic deaths, interspersed with a great deal of Wagner's passionate and yet ponderously dignified orchestral music.

The opera wins. Although the results may be a bit skewed by the fact that I broke the speed limit most of the way, I think it's a fair result when you take into account my stops to refill fuel, empty my bladder, and refresh myself with food and drink. To be sure, Iowa from east to west might be another story. But then, I've never had an opportunity to compare that drive to a Wagner opera, and I'm unlikely to do so.

This drive home struck me as strangely unfamiliar. I have, after all, made several trips from St. Louis to the Twin Cities. But then I realized that, oddly enough, I had never driven straight back until yesterday. I had either made the trip by air, or (on at least two occasions) had gone home by way of my mother's home in Nebraska. So it was actually weird to see the southbound side of my regular route. And it's weird that it was weird.

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